Discovery May Lead to Improved Hip Implants

Dr. Joshua J. Jacobs

A team of engineers and physicians have made a surprising discovery that offers a target for designing new materials for hip implants that are less susceptible to the joint’s normal wear and tear.

Researchers from Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, and the University of Duisburg-Essen Germany found that graphitic carbon is a key element in a lubricating layer that forms on metal-on-metal hip implants. The lubricant is more similar to the lubrication of a combustion engine than that of a natural joint.

The study will be published Dec. 23 by the journal Science.

Prosthetic materials for hips, which include metals, polymers and ceramics, have a lifetime typically exceeding 10 years. However, beyond 10 years the failure rate generally increases, particularly in young, active individuals. Physicians would love to see that lifespan increased to 30 to 50 years. Ideally, artificial hips should last the patient’s lifetime.

Our findings will help push the field forward by providing a target to improve the performance of hip replacements,” said co-author and principal investigator Dr. Joshua J. Jacobs, the William A. Hark, M.D./Susanne G. Swift Professor of Orthopedic Surgery and professor and chair of the department of orthopedic surgery at Rush. “That’s very exciting to me.”

Read the entire news release.